I've been involved with fishing of some sort
or another for several decades now. During that
time I've had the opportunity to speak to thousands
of fishermen and rod builders from around the world.
It dawned on me long ago, that perhaps the most
misunderstood segment of the tackle market concerns
the numbering system used for fly rods and fly lines.
Most fishermen, and many rod builders, have never
really understood it. And because they haven't
understood it, the industry has been able to get
away with something that they otherwise might not
have been able to. For those of you who don't
understand what these numbers mean, let's take a
Fly rods are no different than spinning or casting
rods in that they require some manner of weight and
some amount of angler input, in order to load and cast.
In fly fishing, you cast the line, not a lure or sinker.
Depending upon the fly you're casting and the fishing
situation you're in, you may need to cast lines of
varying weights. Thus, a system was devised to properly
match these various weight lines to the rods that would
best cast them. This system consists of a set of numbers
ranging from 1 to 15, with each number assigned to
represent a specific amount of weight (in grains). But
unlike a sinker or lure that has a fixed weight, the weight
of a fly line will vary depending upon how much of it you
have past the tip. So AFTMA had to arrive at a constant
length of line from which to take their weight
measurements from. They settled on measuring the weight
of the first 30 feet of line. At that point, it became
a simple task to design specific rods that would work
best with 30 feet of specific line aerialized past the
Let's take a moment and examine a specific line weight
and rod weight to illustrate the premise behind the
AFTMA system. We'll use a 5-weight outfit as an example.
The AFTMA standard for 30 feet of a 5-weight line is
145 grains over the first 30 feet. So you would expect
that a rod designed to work well with that line would
be one that would load easily and optimumly with 145
grains of weight. Such a rod would be labeled as a
5-weight rod and would match perfectly when about 30
feet of a 5-weight line was put past the tip.
Now because any rod will cast with a bit under or
over the optimum casting weight, the fisherman can
expect that his 5-weight rod will still cast fairly
well even with a bit less or a bit more than 30 feet
of that 5-weight line past the tip. Remember that
when he has less than 30 feet of line past the tip
he has less than 145 grains to cast with. And when he
has more than 30 feet of line past the tip, he has
more than 145 grains for casting. But as long as he
doesn't go too far in either direction, he'll be
okay. In fact, he's most likely to find that his
matched 5-weight outfit will fish nicely at distances
of from about 25 to 65 or 70 feet. And that's a
pretty good range for most fishing situations.
Now what happens if he decides to fish in really
close - maybe a small stream where he'll never get
more than maybe 15 feet past the rod tip? Not
a problem. He still needs 145 grains or so to get
that rod to load. He obtains that 145 grains on 15
feet of line by moving up a line number or two. So
instead of a 5-weight line, he selects a 6-weight
line for use when he's fishing in really close and
is putting less than say, 25 feet or so past the rod
tip. The rod still feels 145 grains, so it casts fine.
Now let's move out to the far end of the spectrum.
Let's say the guy is going to be fishing at very
long distances and pushing perhaps 80 to 100
feet. He may well carry 60 or more feet of line
past the tip before his final cast. He still needs
145 grains on that rod and our 5-weight line at
60 or more feet is going to weigh much more than
that. But again, it's not a problem, as he can just
drop down a line size to a 4-weight line and find
that with around 50 to 60 feet of line out there
past the tip, he's wound up right back at 145
grains. Thus the rod is well loaded and casts nicely,
just as before.
This is and was always the premise of the AFTMA line
numbering system. Lines and rods of the same number
were designed to match and work well together with
about 30 feet of the rated line past the tip. If you
were fishing in really close, you moved up a line size.
If you were fishing out really, really far, you dropped
down a line size. What could be simpler? Nothing, really.
But somehow or somewhere fishermen didn't get the
message and the manufacturers of lines and rods
parted company on this basic and practical premise.
Some companies decided that some of their rods would
match some lines with 20 feet past the tip while other
rods would match other lines with 60 feet past the tip.
And no two companies necessarily agreed on which line
or how much of it would load their respective rods.
The numbers you see on rods and lines now don't really
mean much anymore. They mean what each company wants
them to mean, and you really have no idea what that
is. It's almost as if the distance of a mile in
California was different than the distance of a
mile in Texas and nobody was telling you what
either distance was. Suddenly, a mile becomes a
term that really has little practical meaning.
Today we have a situation where one company's
4-weight rod is more powerful than another
company's 6-weight rod. Where no two 5-weight
rods possess the same intrinsic power. We have
a situation where a company's 8 foot rods may
require only 20 feet of the rated line to load
optimumly, while the same company's 9 foot rods
may require 45 feet of the rated line to load as
well. To make matters worse, they don't tell you
this anywhere in their catalogs. Confusing?
There's a lot of talk these days about creating
a new standard for fly lines and fly rods, something
that might eliminate the confusion which we have
now. But there's really no need for it. The original
AFTMA system made and still makes perfect sense. But
you have to understand what it's based on - 30 feet
of line weighing a certain amount and a rod intended to
optimumly load with that particular weight. Once you
understand that, you can correctly match that rod with
any line at any distance or situation you plan to
fish. We don't need a new system, we need to understand
the original AFTMA system. It's simple and it works.
~ Tom Kirkman, RodMaker Magazine
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